GuildHE response to the National Council for Educational Excellence Report

GuildHE, one of higher education’s two representative bodies,
has backed calls for a national publicity campaign to highlight the benefits of entering HE and the support available for students.

But it has warned that placing too much emphasis in the campaign on encouraging more students from working class backgrounds to apply for places at the most selective universities could prove counter-productive.

A strong campaign targeting school pupils from low-income families and other groups that are under-represented in higher education is one of the recommendations in a government-commissioned report published today by the National Council for Educational Excellence (NCEE).

Professor David Baker, Chair of GuildHE and Principal of University College Plymouth St Mark & St John, commented:

“GuildHE supports the practical direction taken by NCEE to generate a more active collaboration between schools and higher education to drive up the achievement of schools and inspire students to be the best they can be.

“It is crucial to demonstrate that the benefits of higher education are developmental as well as financial. We need lifelong education that is personally rewarding from the start, and that rekindles excitement in learning alongside career and professional ambition. Effective advice and guidance is a key element in ensuring that children know where education can and should lead in life.”

Alice Hynes, chief executive of GuildHE, said such a campaign is urgently needed to help persuade a growing number of debt-averse people that the personal and financial benefits of studying for an HE qualification still make it a worthwhile investment.

She said: “Research commissioned by one of our member institutions, Newman University College, has shown there is still a significant number of young people who believe higher education is not for them. Many of them are terrified by the prospect of accumulating large debts, and these considerations are likely to loom even larger at a time when the effects of the credit crunch are making everyone more cautious with their money.

“Even under better economic conditions, all students will be reviewing their investment in education and more needs to be done to inform prospective students about the support that is available.

“However hard we engage in supportive recruitment, wrong choices earlier can close down applicant options. The decisions and hopes children have at 11 set them on track as young adults. Good quality information advice and guidance, together with role models demonstrating a possible brighter future are critical if children are all to fulfil their real potential.”

GuildHE is concerned that some of the NCEE’s recommendations could lead to schools being put under pressure to encourage more pupils to apply for places at selective universities when this would not be the best move for many of these pupils.

Ms Hynes said: “Of course we agree with the NCEE that efforts should be made to raise the aspirations of students who have the ability to benefit from higher education. However, for every student who would thrive at a research-led university there are many others who would achieve more, feel happier, and be less likely to drop out at smaller institution where there is a more supportive environment and courses with greater flexibility.”

GuildHE recognises the key role for teachers in raising aspirations. HEIs must further invigorate their role in educating teachers to ensure they can provide the right start on that developing journey.